The major political parties in St. Kitts and Nevis, namely, the Labor Party and the People Action Movement (PAM) have opposing views concerning the need for a defence force. Started by the Bradshaw-led Labor party in 1967, who saw the need of a force to assist the police, a regular force remained in power until he passed. After Premier Bradshaw's death on 23 May 1978, his deputy Paul Southwell replaced him. Although Dominican by birth, Southwell had been an active Kittitian and Nevisian politician since the 1940s. Before his death on 18 May 1979 and during his one-year term as Premier, Southwell retained the regular army as well as the reserve.
This policy was continued during Lee Moore's premiership (1979-1980). But Moore seemed conscious of the mounting opposition to the military and did not allow a new intake of recruits. The opposition, which emanated mostly from PAM, claimed that the islands were too small for a defence force and that financial allocations given to it were wasted funds. PAM was of the opinion that an army was not needed rather the police force of over 400 should be strengthened to carry out needed duties which are clearly part of their job. Simmonds stated that "we can only see it as an intimidation army of the Labor Party." Leader of the Opposition, Hugh Heyliger, recalled times before Labor's electoral defeat in the 1980 elections when the army was used "to intimidate and oppress people."
After PAM was elected to office in February 1980, its leader and the new premier of St. Kitts and Nevis Kennedy Simmons visited Springfield, the SKNDF headquarters. At that time, he stated that there would always be a defence force in the territory and that its personnel should have no fear of losing their jobs. Three weeks later, he, along with Simeon Daniel, Premier of Nevis and two others, visited the military detachment on Nevis and made a similar announcement.
Nevertheless, in relation to Nevis, 36 hours later, on 13 March 1980, Patrick Wallace, who at the time commanded the detachment on Nevis, received a telephone message from Regimental Sergeant Major Leroy Percival indicating that a decision had been made to close the Nevis detachment. Instructions were given to ship all military belongings to St. Kitts by police launch and that that which could not be taken should be stored at the Charlestown Police Station. When the soldiers were en route to St. Kitts, to be reassigned to Springfield, one of them, Ranger Monclair James, lost his life by drowning. Later, 12 to 15 soldiers from Springfield were sent to live at the Basseterre Fire Department and then moved to other police departments throughout St. Kitts and Nevis. Also, approximately ten police officers were sent to live in military barracks at Springfield. In due course, a meeting was held at Springfield to announce the fate of the regular force. Premier Kennedy Simmons, Attorney General Tapley Seaton, Commissioner of Police Stanley Franks and the Prime Minister's Chief Secretary, Calvin Farrier attended the meeting. Those gathered were told that the government had decided to dissolve the regular force thus allowing its members four choices. Three of the four were to join the police force, the prison service or the civil service. The fourth was for its members to be paid off. They were further told a decision was expected in three months. Two weeks later, however, on 23 September 1981, the regular force was at an end.7
This decision appears to have been largely influenced by PAM's perception of the close ties of the SKNDF to Bradshaw and the Labour Party. In so doing, it constrained PAM to seek to find loyal supporters to become part of the officer corps and to command the force but these efforts were fruitless.
Vernon Fleming, a party activist, who claimed previous service in the British Army, was made a lieutenant in the force. In this vein, it has even been proffered that attempts were made to recruit St. Kitts nationals overseas who were believed to be supporters of PAM and who had served in foreign militaries to return and join the SKNDF.
After its demise, the vast majority of the ex-members of the defunct regular section either joined the police force, entered the local civil service or emigrated to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, some of the latter joining the U.S. armed forces (Frank Mills, "Determinants and Consequences of the Migration Culture of St. Kitts-Nevis" in Patricia R. Pessar, When Borders Don't Divide: Labor Migration and Refugee Movement in the Americas, New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1988: 48).
The weapons and equipment were transferred to the police with the semi-automatic weapons going to the police's Tactical Unit, later converted to the Special Service Unit. The head of the Unit at that time was Sgt. Felix Hodge (later Deputy Commissioner of Police). However, when the Labor Party led by Denzil Douglas was returned to power, the regular corps, after a 16-year hiatus, was reactivated on 1 June 1997.
The regular section of the St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force was started in 1967 on two different occasions. In the eyes of the Bradshaw administration, the creation of a regular force seemed justifiable because the police as well as the volunteers in the pre-existing defence force, who were deemed to be inadequately trained and poorly armed, were incapable of containing the unrest which was bent on breaking the union between St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla. The establishment of a regular force gave St. Kitts and Nevis the distinction of being the first Commonwealth Caribbean country in the Leeward Islands to institute a "regular core" of full time soldiers.
Even after Anguilla's secession from St. Kitts and Nevis became a fait accomplit in 1969, in the ensuing years, personnel from the defence force and police were routinely employed by the Labor government to intimidate political opponents on both St. Kitts and Nevis in view of the growing support for PAM. In so doing, the security forces also served as a deterrent to the secession of Nevis.
In contrast to Anguilla, the security forces, assisted by the geographical proximity of the two islands and the closer ties between them, was successful, along with other factors, at discouraging the secession of Nevis.
In addition to internal security, which appears to have been its main role, the SKNDF carried out ceremonial tasks, assisted the government and spearheaded relief efforts. In the case of the latter, the most memorable was the aftermath of the Christina disaster in 1970.
Given Bradshaw's personalistic relationship with the SKNDF and the ensuing perception that it was largely controlled by the Labor party, when PAM assumed power in February 1980, efforts were made to find party loyalists to put in top positions in the force. However, when these failed the new government felt that, in the interest of its own political self-preservation, it was left with little choice and disbanded the regular force though it retained the reserve arm.
After Kennedy Simmons, leader of PAM, served four terms as Premier and Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, equivalent to 15 years, the Labor Party, under the leadership of Denzil Douglas, was returned to power on 3 July 1995. Shortly thereafter, Labor revived the regular arm of the Defence Force which it established in 1967. The Defence Force has continued many of its non-military functions and has also become increasing involved in "policing," including the combating of drug and other illegal activity, thus leading to a blurring of the roles of the police and the military.
|Divisions of the Defence Force
Regimental Headquarters: Regimental Headquarters located at Camp Springfield, in Basseterre, the federation's capital, serves as a central coordinating body for the various sub-units of the force and regulates the relationship between these units and external agencies. It is made up of the office of the Commander, officers' quarters, a canteen, headquarters of the Reserve Companies and a medical facility.
Regimental Headquarters Comprises of: Force Headquarters, Infantry Unit, Band Corps, Combat Service & Support Unit.
Rifle Company: A Rifle Company (once referred to as Combat Group) is commanded by a captain and is composed of the company headquarters) and two rifle platoons. A lieutenant commands each platoon, comprising three rifle sections or squads of minimum strength, led by corporals. During the years 1970 to 1977, there was a detachment of 10 to 12 soldiers at Bath Village on the island of Nevis. Presently, there is no regular detachment of soldiers on that sister island.
Reserve Corps: The Reserve Corps of the SKNDF, which reports to the commander, comprises one Rifle Company, a band unit, a coast guard unit and a cadet corps. In charge of this is Major Joseph H. Jones.
St. Kitts and Nevis Coast Guard: The St. Kitts and Nevis Coast Guard is the maritime arm of the SKNDF. Up until 1997, part of the national police force, it is headquartered at the Old Factory Pier, Bird Rock, and has its own commander. The Coast Guard Commanding Officer who is responsible for its administration is supported by an executive officer that assists the former.
Structurally, the Coast Guard is divided into three sub-units: a headquarters department, an engineering department and a flotilla department. The last consists of five vessels, including the Stalwart. Also, there is a reserve element. During the Bradshaw years, there were plans to start a maritime wing.
Captains Errol Maynard and Donald Brooks co-authored a report to this effect, but their recommendations were never implemented. Brooks was a lawyer and member of the reserve section. The person in charge is Captain Anthony J. Comrie
Service and Support (S/S) Platoon: A warrant officer commands the Service and Support (S/S) Platoon. It is made up of cooks, office personnel, drivers, carpenters, mechanics and others. This very important unit includes an Agricultural Corps of 3 persons. Under the S/S is the armour troop. It previously consisted of three UK-made ferret scout cars, commanded by a staff sergeant. In September 1999, the force's fleet was augmented when four pick-up trucks and one jeep was provided through Foreign Military Financing from the U.S. Department of Defence.
St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force Band: The St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force Band was started in the early 1930s and is headed by a Director of Music. It has varied in size over the years, from a low of 15 to a high of 48. A sub-set of the Band is the Drum Corps, headed by a Drum Major. In charge of this is Captain Nigel Williams.
St. Kitts Nevis Defence Force Cadet Corps: The SKNDF has responsibility for the St. Kitts Nevis Defence Force Cadet Corps which is composed of students from all of the secondary schools, including the Basseterre High School. The Cadet scheme, begun in 1917, is headed by a Lt./Officer Commanding, usually an officer of the SKNDF. It draws its members from the various high schools in the Federation. There are companies, each of varying strength, at seven schools in the 1970s, namely, Verchilds High School, Convent High School, Cayon High School, the Basseterre Junior High School, the Charlestown Secondary and Gingerland High School, the last two of the 7 on the neighbouring island of Nevis.
Many members of both the regular and reserve corps of the SKNDF are former members of the cadet corps. Among the most notable are Errol Maynard, Scott Hendricks, Ian Hodge, Cornell Kelly and Patrick Wallace. Interestingly, Brigadier Carl Alfonsa, the eighth head of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (and fourth Chief of Defence Staff), is a former member of the Cadet Corps at the St. Kitts Grammar School which he attended while his father was the Chief of Police of the local police force. In charge of the Cadet Corps is Lt. Kayode P. Sutton.